Public approached by drug users wanting to trade vouchers for cash

People in Belfast’s city centre are approaching passers-by in an effort to trade their vouchers in return for cash.

number of people have said they were approached by people who appeared to be sleeping rough or who said they were drug users in a bid to trade their voucher for £60 in cash.

One man, who wished to keep anonymous, said he was approached on Fountain Street in Belfast. “He offered to go with me to where I wanted to use it to show it worked,” he said.

Another woman was on College Street when she was approached by a woman with a sleeping bag who also offered her £100 voucher in return for £60 in cash. When she refused, the woman started to shout abuse.

There has been huge need for the scheme, which will see a voucher posted to applicants that can be used in shops up until the end of November.

The cards can be used in any shop with a card machine but cannot be used online or for gambling or legal sets like penalties. They are expected to arrive between seven and 10 days after an application is made.

A phone application service opened on Monday for those who do not have access to the internet.

The £145m scheme is designed to raise activity in businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, like non-basic retail and hospitality.

Founder and director of west Belfast’s Foodstock charity Paul Doherty said many unprotected people are torn on how to use the voucher.

“We’re dealing with unprotected individuals and that’s something that has come up around the use of the vouchers,” he said.

“The message we’re trying to give is to use them as functional as possible, we’re in for a difficult winter for a number of prices with heating going up and prices more generally.”

Issues such as inflation, an increase in food prices generally and soaring energy costs are set to cost hundreds for people in Northern Ireland in coming months.

Mr Doherty additional: “All we can do in those circumstances is to provide guidance to ask please use them sensibly and nearly, use them to your assistance and try and heat your homes and fill your cupboards. There are a lot of people who are lost in the time of action and don’t know how to avail of the voucher either.”​

A spokesperson for Department for Economy said: “All illegal activity, or suspected illegal activity, should be reported to the PSNI”.

The PSNI said it has not received any such reports.

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